Photographer Files $1 Billion Suit Against Getty for Licensing Her Public Domain Images [UPDATED]

    How would you vote of you were a judge in this case?

    I own a small professional video production business. Woodie, an attorney and friend at the time, asked me to shoot some video for his TV show. He promised to pay for my time when the work was finished. We were friends, it was a one day shoot with someone else doing the editing, so no big deal, I thought. Who needs a contract?

    His edit guy bugged out, and he asked me to take over. It would have been a one day edit, but Woddie’s on screen performance was so poor and the green screen lighting at the studio was so uneven, we couldn’t use the footage for what he wanted. I advised him of the poor lighting up front, but his response was, “do the best you can with it.”

    He agreed to pay for me to re-shoot everything in my studio. the new video came out great. I even coached him through the acting, which was better but still not TV host worthy. I did the editing, which took about a day. Then Woodie wanted ten more videos made from the raw footage. He asked me to shoot an additional event, which of course he agreed to pay extra for shooting and editing. Then he wanted more editing using video clips he procured somewhere else. It was always just “one more thing” and I’ll get paid. He refused to use my EDL (edit decision list) forms, which made searching for his editing choices take much longer. In fact, because of that, it took over forty days to finish his additional editing.

    I registered all my video work with the US Copyright office, smelling a rat that Woodie might try to get out of paying for my work.

    I gave him low resolution copies of the finished work for his evaluation, which I posted on my youtube channel. He claimed these were unusable. He brought in his laptop one day, and while I was in another room, he copied all my files from my hard drive to his laptop. It’s the only way he could have obtained my good files, because I never gave them to him.

    I presented him with an invoice, billing him very fairly at only 100 dollars a day. As an editor who charges 100 dollars an hour, that was a real bargain for nearly two months of my shooting and editing. He went ballistic, told me to ‘F’ myself; he wasn’t paying over 4000 dollars for my work. He then started telling others my work was no good. I took down my YouTube channel.

    The next day, he threatened to sue me for interfering with his business. He put my videos back up on his own YouTube channel. Since he had given me his YouTube password previously, I took the videos down and sent him a cease and desist letter, stating he was in copyright violation.

    The third day, he hired a web company to create a new YouTube channel. He posted my videos there, which he linked to his web site. He has continuously been using my work to generate funds for his commercial television project.

    I sent a second invoice to his American Family Life corporation and a copy to his daughter in California (who is listed as VP of American Family Life).

    Woodie called the police and stated I was harassing him by emailing another invoice, and that I was endangering the welfare of his daughter by sending an invoice to her. I then contacted the police myself to see if they could arrest him for fraud. They told me, something about Woodie wasn’t quite right. They also explained it was a civil matter, and they couldn’t enforce the payment.

    I took him to court for unjust enrichment, and he claimed I sued the wrong party. He stated he was a corporate entity, and not an individual, even though he came to me as Woodie Thomas, individual. The judge dismissed the case on technicality without prejudice.

    I did some research, and discovered that copyright always stays with the creator of the tangible work, unless it is work-for-hire, or the copyright is signed off in a written agreement. But a little known law protects vendors in a client-vendor relationship.

    Clients always believe if they are paying, then it is automatically work-for-hire. But the law clearly states there is more to it than that in a client-vendor relationship. As a vendor and creator of the tangible work, I can only transfer my copyright by written statement or contract, where I expressly transfer my copyright. It isn’t work-for-hire unless it’s an employer-employee relationship. I never signed over my rights.

    I also discovered there are two basic types of copyright enforcement. One is cash value where I need to prove the value of my loss, which would be good for a known artist like the Beatles, where millions are at stake. There is also a statutory enforcement where no proof of value is required, but the limit is 75,000 dollars. The person bringing the suit also needs to have initiated the copyright registration application prior to the statutory lawsuit.

    Woodie has acknowledged in writing that I performed the work, and has also admitted in writing he refuses to pay for it. In addition, he is still using my work after being informed in writing that doing so is a clear case of copyright violation. He responded by threatening to sue me because he said he owns the copyright. I also contacted his web creator and YouTube, advising them the videos are my copyrighted work, and to remove them, which neither of them did.

    My next recourse is to sue all three parties for statutory copyright infringement. I have a solid case with all the evidence and documentation in order, and 75,000 dollars would certainly cover my costs. It may even hold legal ground that each of the three parties would owe 75,000 dollars individually.

    This experience has led me to forego the trust of friends and to avoid becoming involved in future low-budget TV and movie projects everyone seems to be doing these days.

    So what do you think? How would you decide this case?

    This content was originally published here.

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